i. Impact of climate change

The East of England is likely to feel the impacts of climate change more than most given the soft coastline and low lying nature of the land and because it is already one of the driest regions in the UK. By the end of the century, it is forecast[i] that that there will be:

  • Hotter, drier summers (between 2˚ and 5˚C warmer and 30% to 60% drier),
  • Milder, wetter winters (between 1.5˚and 3.5˚C warmer and 15% to 35% wetter),
  • More frequent extreme high summer temperatures and winter rainfall, and
  • An extended thermal growing season of up to 50 days.
  • Reduction in summer moisture may prevent tree growth on very thin, free-draining soils,
  • Increasing soil-moisture deficit may limit species choice, especially where a species is at the limit of its range because of moisture availability,
  • Growth rates may be enhanced or reduced dependent on species, and population densities of mammalian pests are likely to increase due to milder winters and increased forage availability during spring – the critical period.
  • Disease and insect pests may increase as trees are subjected to greater environmental stresses.

Changes to the climate over the next 40-50 years are largely inevitable. Mean annual temperatures for the UK are expected to rise by between 3 and 6 degrees by 2080, winters will get warmer. Summer rainfall may fall by 50% whilst winter rainfall may increase by up to 40%, so summer drought and winter flooding may become more common. We also know that summer soil moisture levels will reduce.

ii. Trees and climate change

These changes will have an impact on our trees and it will be necessary to plan for the future to help trees and forests cope and at the same time help communities adapt. Trees can help in three ways - through mitigation, adaptation and the provision of renewable energy.

a. Mitigation
Trees...reduce greenhouse gas emissions
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Each tree locks up 0.546kg of carbon annually, equivalent to 2kg of CO2.
Source: Forest Research

  • The UK's sustainably produced woodfuel could reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 7 million tonnes per annum.
  • Present UK forests and woodlands remove 4 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere every year.
  • A 33% increase in UK woodland cover would deliver an emissions abatement equivalent to 10% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The concept of trading in carbon offsets (whereby businesses or individuals offset the carbon dioxide (CO2) they produce by engaging in CO2-saving or sequestering activities) is gaining ground. Although sequestration projects are not included at present in the official EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)[ii] , a number of voluntary schemes include woodland planting.

- sequestration benefits of trees -

Increased woodland cover for social, environmental and economic reasons will also bring carbon sequestration benefits in the short and medium-term – and an attractive way of helping to meet national targets as well as providing other significant benefits.

Trees have a crucial role in regulating our climate, through photosynthesis they remove CO2 from the atmosphere, binding it and storing it as carbon. The carbon is held in the forest biomass, the trunks, branches, foliage and roots. There it will remain until the tree is felled for fuel or for timber. If for timber it may well get locked away in a building or product for years. In young forests carbon is taken up quickly and in mature forests a balance is reached where carbon sequestration balances that lost by decay reaching a steady state. At this point the forest becomes carbon store - a reservoir of carbon that can be released when trees are destroyed. By protecting and managing forests we can maintain the carbon already locked in.

One estimate suggests the maximum rate of carbon accumulation in woodland in the UK is 10 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year (tC/ha/yr), and the average over a full commercial rotation is closer to 3tC/ha/yr. Forest and woodlands account for around 80% of the vegetation carbon stock in the UK. Forest soils sequester a large amount of carbon and plant matter is the single most important source of carbon in the soil. Planting native hardwood species can increase this soil carbon.

- value of East of England annual sequestration increment
is £60 million -

Carbon uptake in the East of England associated with existing woodland, (assuming a uniform age distribution) is estimated[iii] to be 484 thousand tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum (kt/CO2/yr) for conifer woodland, and 527 kt/CO2/yr for broadleaf woodland (or, a total of 1.1 million tonnes CO2/yr), excluding soil carbon sequestration. In 2010 the value[iv] for the annual increment in carbon sequestration in the East of England is just under £60 million per year, rising in value to £342 million per year by 2070. The estimated stock of carbon locked up in the woodlands and trees is estimated to have a total present value of £3.534 billion based on the current stocking level with values rising over time in line with the predicted increases in the value of the traded price of carbon. This is only an illustrative figure as this carbon value is unlikely to be realised.

- Carbon Code -

The draft Carbon Code provides rigorous carbon measurement protocols and outlines how to encourage a consistent approach to woodland carbon projects, helping to offer clarity and transparency to customers, reassure the market and investors about voluntary woodland carbon projects, and help to construct a framework that may support a mandatory market for woodland carbon credits in the future.

The expansion of schemes following the final Code's publication may provide opportunities to bring more investment into woodlands. It is likely that a range of sequestration options (like the 'Green Funds' project sponsored by the Dutch government) will be under review for opportunities to link them into the wider ETS.

b. Adaptation
Whilst carbon storage or sequestration forms part of the drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that the climate is set to change is inevitable due to the level of CO2 already in the atmosphere.

The value of trees and woodland for adaptation needs to be more widely recognised.
Trees...moderate temperatures
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Trees' capacities to evaporate water, reflect sunlight and provide shade combine to reduce the 'urban heat-island' effect.

  • Scientific investigation revealed that increasing tree cover by ten percent can reduce the surface temperature of a city by between three or four degrees Celsius.
    Source: Manchester University
  • Urban trees have a cooling effect, remove pollutant particles from the air.

Trees...ease climate change impacts
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Trees capacity to attenuate water flow reduces the impact of heavy rain.

  • Every 5% increase in tree cover reduced water run-off by 2%.
    Source: Coder 1996
Trees can also slow down flooding and provide shade along river banks, which as weather may be warmer will be important for fish. Wood is important as an energy source and is vital for displacing the use of carbon intensive materials such as iron, steel and concrete in construction.
Trees...offset climate change
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5 cubic cm of Sitka spruce contains the same amount of carbon as would be involved powering an electric kettle to boil a litre of water.
Source: Forest Research

  • The carbon in 6 cubic m of timber used in building a timber-framed house is equivalent to driving an average petrol car for almost a year (10,000 miles).
    Source: Forest Research
  • While the carbon contained in one cubic metre of timber compares to the emissions/or fuel from two return flights to the Mediterranean, or driving an HGV from London to Edinburgh.
    Source: Forest Research

Every cubic metre of timber used as a substitute for other materials such as concrete or steel in construction saves approximately 2 tonnes of CO2.

The Climate Change Act[v] has set legally binding targets for the UK to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, and CO2 by at least 26 per cent by 2020. The key mechanisms to achieve a reduction in carbon emissions are to reduce energy consumption through increased energy efficiency e.g. developing low carbon homes and moving to renewable energy sources. The UK’s legally binding target to ensure 15% of energy comes from renewable sources by 2020 - a seven-fold increase in just 10 years. The UK Renewable Energy Strategy (July 2009) supports a scenario where more than 30% of electricity, 12% of heat and 10% of transport energy comes from renewables.

To encourage this various incentives have been established: Renewables Obligation, Renewable transport fuel obligation, feed in tariffs, permission for Local Authorities to sell electricity to the Grid and a Renewable Heat Incentive:

c. Renewable energy
Wood is a clean renewable carbon neutral energy source. Biomass, which includes wood and short rotation coppice, is seen as an essential element in the delivery of the 12% of heat from renewables, and the second most significant renewable resource for the country behind wind.

- woodfuel a major opportunity -

Renewables East[vi] estimates that currently 8.1% of the East of England’s consumed electricity comes from renewables both on and offshore with on-shore contributing 7.3%. Woodfuel is a valuable source of energy in particular as heat. Woodfuel was identified in 2003[vii] as a major opportunity, especially for private woodland owners based on the estimates of undermanaged woodland in the East of England and poor quality roundwood production. Evidence suggests the market for woodfuel has expanded since 2003 and will continue to grow into the future based on grants for wood heating and concerns over fossil fuel price rises. The 2003 study indicated the major market was firewood, but more recent developments suggest the market for wood pellets and woodchips is growing. Woodfuel East[viii] - a project to stimulate the woodfuel industry in order to encourage woodland management has a target of 110,000 green tonnes timber harvested per year (log value of approximately £11 million/annum gross) and a target of stimulating120 full time equivalents (FTE) jobs. It is estimated that woodfuel currently adds around £5.2 million to the regional economy.

- woodfuel for heating -

At the local level there is a great deal of opportunity to benefit from using woodfuel in the generation of heat, or combined heat and power. Woodfuel East was established in 2008 to encourage the supply chain for wood fuel. Woodfuel East has been able to offer grants for boilers, equipment for sustainably harvesting wood fuel and for supporting the log sector. Figures show that a substantial number of wood burning stoves have been installed over the last couple of years and the value of woodfuel has increased significantly as current suppliers are unable to meet demand

The market for heating is actually larger than that for electricity in the UK, accounting for 45% of total energy use. Moreover, wood fuelled heating is probably the lowest cost of all renewables both in terms of capital and delivered energy costs.

- overcoming constraints -

Woodfuel East has been instrumental in helping to remove a number of constraints that were outlined in the 2003 Woodlandforlife[ix] document namely:

  • Small woodland size,
  • Diverse ownership,
  • Alternative uses, particularly sporting and nature conservation,
  • Uneven distribution, and
  • Lack of skills and supply chain infrastructure to get fuel from wood to end-user.

Community opportunities
There is still a great potential for communities to benefit from this renewable energy market by, in the longer term, making woodfuel a locally-owned and managed product helping to generate jobs and reducing fossil fuel use.

The technology for burning wood to produce heat and power is well developed, tried and tested throughout Europe and increasingly so in the UK. Here in the East of England a number of landowners are installing boilers to use fuel wood from their own forests, on some of the larger estates woodchip district heating systems are being installed to heat tenants properties. There is also a developing range of boilers on the market for domestic use such as using pyrolysis, which are extremely efficient.

Guidance on issues surrounding planning applications for biomass can be found in the Woodfuel Development Guidance on the Biomass Energy Centre website[x].

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[iii] Mark Broadmeadow, FC, pers comm
[iv] Woodland Wealth Appraisal 2010, in press
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